Postseason Preview: Can surprising Rangers go all the way?
(Editor’s note: We’ll analyze each team’s postseason chances after it clinches a playoff berth.)
A year after a string of disastrous injuries derailed their postseason hopes, the Texas Rangers have officially punched a ticket to the playoffs.
With a 5-3 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night, first-year manager Jeff Banister and his Rangers are assured of a wild-card spot at the very least. Their magic number for the AL West title is down to one, meaning they’ll claim the crown with a win or an Astros’ loss anytime over the next three days — Houston is three games back.
What the Rangers have done is truly remarkable considering they lost Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery before the season even began.
Reeling in the big fish of the July 31 trade deadline, Cole Hamels, has paid off very well. Despite some early struggles, Hamels has mostly proven to be the bona fide ace that the team needed in Darvish’s absence. Hamels’ supporting cast, including Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez has had its ups and downs as well, but the Rangers’ true strength lies in the resurgent years of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo — not to mention Adrian Beltre’s leadership.
So just how far can they go in October?
Why they can win the World Series: Many folks say it doesn’t matter who the “best” team is entering the postseason since it’s typically the “hottest” clubs that go deep. See 2014’s San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals as recent examples of teams not expected to go far in last year’s postseason, only to mount tremendous runs. The Rangers, meanwhile, went 27-15 from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15 to take over the AL West’s top spot from the previously unstoppable Astros. Texas’ bullpen has quietly whipped into shape with key contributors including Sam Dyson, Keone Kela and closer Shawn Tolleson.
Then there’s Banister, whose #NEVEREVERQUIT mantra has essentially been a unifying agent for the Rangers all season long. They knew they weren’t necessarily figured to be a factor once Darvish went down, and yet here they are — on the verge of an AL West title.
Why they can’t win the World Series: That starting rotation could be exposed in a five- or seven-game playoff series. Besides Hamels (who is prone to occasional struggles himself), there’s no guarantee what the Gallardo/Lewis/Perez trio might do against a premier team like the Blue Jays or Royals. Texas’ 4.24 team ERA is 13th in the AL and 23rd in the league overall.
Holland is arguably one of the keys to their postseason success or failure. Some recent personal struggles prompted Holland to abandon his Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn haircut so as to cut out any distractions from getting back on his game. Injuries limited his activity this season, but he’s been here before. In 13 career postseason games (four of them starts), Holland is 3-0 with a 3.79 ERA, having allowed 15 earned runs in 35 2/3 innings. He seems pegged to be the Rangers’ No. 2 starter in a playoff series, and how he fares will probably be crucial to the Rangers’ fate.
It could all go very well, or it could all fizzle out in the ALDS. After the unpredictable ride of their 2015 season, that seems like a fitting situation for the Rangers to find themselves in right now.